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24th Nov 2012 11:43am | By Nick Dalton
I’m hurtling down the Hermann Maier World Cup run at a rate that’s nothing short of fast and furious.
I’ve been skiing since first light, swishing across slopes from the mountain commune of Alpendorf, via the small town of Wagrain.
I’ve had my head in the clouds, plunged down snowy, tree-lined routes and now the sun is blazing down on the wide-open base area of Flachau.
This is Austria in peak season and my day has everything. Except crowds, that is.
I’m exploring one of the country’s secret skiing spots, yet it’s ‘hidden’ less than an hour’s drive from Salzburg.
The Salzburger Sportwelt has 200km of slopes and while it’s not somewhere that would challenge experts – there’s barely a black run across four valleys – the ease of flying over these perfectly powdery snows makes me want to whoop with giddy satisfaction.
I finally stop to catch my breath at Flachauwinkl, where a free tractor-pulled trailer shuttles skiers to the lift at Zauchensee.
The resort’s Gamskogel Mountain, a soaring peak at 2188m, is the region’s highest point, and as the gondola takes me slowly upwards, I’m almost dumbstruck at how pristine the open slopes look beneath me.
There are easy blue and moderate red runs but I find an off-piste route that doesn’t even touch the groomed slopes and arrive at the bottom again, breathless but exhilarated.
The moderate prices of the Sportwelt reflect the fact that few British tour operators have bothered with the area, because it only has small villages as opposed to more established, tourist-drawing resorts.
In fact, Alpendorf is little more than a collection of hotels around the Rodelbahn gondola, but to me, it’s certainly none the worse for that.
My day’s last run finishes at the Oberforsthof, a rustic ski-in, ski-out hotel.
I have a beer at the Panorama Lounge, a glass-enclosed deck with comfy chairs, furry cushions, log-burning stove and views over the twinkling lights of the Salzach Valley.
Feeling a little less steady on my skis after the drink, I then slip and slide down to the wooden shack that is the Eule (sporthotel-alpina.com), where there’s a buzzing crowd enjoying the après-ski action as snow starts to fall.
Later that evening, I meet up with some ski buddies and head for the cheery Oberforsthof restaurant, where waitresses are clad in short leather skirts and long leather boots – a very distracting combo.
We tuck into one of the most flavoursome starters I’ve ever eaten, the signature hot carpaccio – finely sliced raw beef topped with cheese and grilled, then laden with truffle oil and rocket.
As the evening gets going, the DJ cranks up the volume, people take to the dancefloor and the schnapps starts to flow.
After countless sticky shots, we head for Butz & Stingl, the liveliest bar in town, where the party rages into the early hours.
It’s impossible to avoid dancing in this log cabin venue, as I’m always crushed against someone who is already throwing shapes.
After several textbook-perfect days of skiing by day and boozing by night, it’s time to move on to the Untersberg, a forbidding flat-top mountain on the edge of Salzburg his is a place of legends – Emperor Charlemagne, ruler of most of western Europe in the 7th century, is said to sleep inside.
He’s supposed to wake every 100 years and, if ravens are still flying round the mountaintop, he dozes off again; but if they’re gone, it’s time for a final battle.
A 50-year-old cable car hoists me up the near-vertical side and across a chasm before landing.
This mountain, used mainly by Austrians who are trying to avoid tourists, isn’t actually an official ski area, but has just one 8km off-piste run.
I struggle behind Christian, my ski patroller guide, on a 10-minute hike, wondering if the effort is going to be worth it.